By Nina Baker
A one-acre, outdoor public learning environment with animal habitats, sandboxes and waterways will be built by the Ahrens Park Foundation using $3,500 from the Community Mini-Grants Program of the Grinnell College. The funds were awarded in December 2021.
“It’s a continuation of creating a warm and inviting environment when you come to the park, whether it’s for athletics, gardening, babysitting, or just to take your cares away. “said Chad Nath, CEO of the foundation.
Creation of the outdoor learning environment will begin after the Ahrens Park Foundation distributes a Grinnell-wide survey. Residents will be able to submit their views on the project and their ideas for outdoor classrooms. The date of the survey is yet to be determined, but is scheduled for April.
The outdoor learning environment will be located on the west side of the Grinnell Community Early Learning Center on the grounds of Ahrens Park. The park is located on Pioneer St., half a mile east of the College.
“We’re hoping to have five or six outdoor learning ‘classrooms’ for live activities, digging in the ground, and sand and water features,” Nath said. While most outdoor learning spaces will be accessible to the public, some playgrounds will be reserved for children and will be fenced for safety.
Nath said the outdoor learning classrooms are a continuation of the Ahrens Park Foundation’s efforts to improve Grinnell’s natural infrastructure. In 2013, the foundation created a garden overlooking Grinnell Regional Medical Center. All products are free and over 1,000 books of products are donated each year. A front garden is located close to the proposed outdoor learning space.
Last spring, Nath and other Ahrens Park Foundation employees took a course at North Carolina State University on outdoor education. In return, the Iowa Department of Public Health awarded $5,000 to the Ahrens Park Foundation to install an outdoor learning environment. The Ahrens Park Foundation has also received funding from the 5-2-1-0 Healthy Choice Count! grant, which was created by state Governor Kim Reynolds in 2017 to promote higher levels of physical activity among young people in Iowa.
Nath estimates the total cost of the outdoor learning environment at $10,000. With funds from the College and the state, the foundation exceeded its goal.
Before construction of the learning environments begins, the foundation will conduct a topographic survey of the land and design a preliminary plan. Nath said he hopes the foundation can install one to two classrooms this spring, depending on the results of the community survey. Construction will progress in phases and no end date is set.